Well, I doubt even Punxsutawney Phil could have predicted a Spring such as this one. What can I say? It hasn’t started in a way any of us could have imagined. I was in self-isolation for 14 days while poor Rob and Stu were working too hard. To say the least, it was a trying time for everyone involved. Fortunately, I was lucky to spend time with my loving family and made some memories that will last a lifetime. I was also able to watch some people pick up new hobbies and practice old skills on social media; started re-familiarizing myself with a language I’ve neglected (French); and, of course, get a little homebrewing in.
This brings me to what is kind of the point of this blog. We’re in this for the long haul, folks, which means that it’s a great time to try something you have been meaning to try for a while. Maybe it is learning a new language (DuoLingo is free and fun); maybe it is learning to knit (my stepmother tried to get me to do it for years, but apparently I have three left hands and have the attention span of my four year old). Or, maybe, you have wanted to try homebrewing yourself, but haven’t had the time or didn’t even know where to start. The good news is that we have time now, and I would like to help you get started. What follows are the basics of what you would need to try making your first batch of beer, either as a partial mash (the sugar is extracted for you) or all grain (you get to do everything). In either case, the surprising thing is how little you need to make good beer: a bit of equipment, a few ingredients, and some time.
I want to start with what you will need to grab in terms of cleaning and sanitizing, fermentation equipment, and various knick-knacks. Honestly, cleaning and sanitation are the most important part of brewing (so much so that it has it's own section on our website). Thankfully, our basic equipment kits come with everything you need to get started in this area (see below). You have a few options for your fermenter and each has its own benefits: you can go with a glass carboy, a plastic bucket or even go straight to stainless steel. As for the knick-knacks, there are cappers, brushes, siphons, thermometers, hydrometers, things, stuff, etc. To make it easy, we almost always recommend a starter kit like this one. It’ll give you everything you need to start on the non-boiling side of things. We also have an extensive list of recipes for you to select from: both partial mash and all grain.
There are numerous benefits to doing a partial mash brew. You can use a smaller pot since you don’t have to mash all the grain, which means you have to boil less liquid and it’s easier to cool everything. It also shrinks the number of steps you need to focus on. If you like to make preserves, you likely have a big enough pot at home already. You need to be able to comfortably boil 2.5 gallons of liquid, which means you’ll need roughly a 3.5 gallon pot. If you don’t have a pot that size, we sell smaller pots that will work with partial mash and allow you to scale up to all-grain when you are ready. Once you are finished your boiling schedule, you can stick the pot in a sink of cold water to cool it down. The last benefit of the partial mash is that, if you only boil the 2.5 gallons of wort, you can use cool water to top up to your 5 gallons for fermentation and to also help cool down the rest of the way.
All-grain brewing is basically the same, except that you need to extract the sugar from the grains yourself. This is what’s called the mash. There are a few options here for you, but most people start with a Brew-in-a-Bag technique. This involves taking your crushed grain (good news! We can do that for you), putting in a bag like this, and steeping it in hot water for anywhere between 45 and 90 minutes. This will convert the starch to sugar. The rest of the process is pretty much the same as a partial mash: you now boil that sweet wort, add hops based on a schedule, cool the wort, and then pitch the yeast once the wort is cool enough and in the fermenter. There are few more things that will make all-grain brewing easier: you can use a mash tun (usually a converted cooler), which is a bit cleaner than using a bag and it is a bit more efficient; it’s also easier to cool your wort if you use some type of chiller, like an immersion chiller, but these things are not a must. They are nice-to-haves.
Regardless of what style of brewing you want to try, or what equipment you have, brewing beer at home is fun. It’s a great way to spend an afternoon and, in a couple of weeks, you’ve got yourself some tasty beer. Brewing is a great way to take a break from the added stress that we’re all feeling right now, and we're happy to help you get started. Life is short. Homebrew.